heads up putting technique

Heads Up Putting: Why You Need to Try It

If you’re going through a slump on the greens, it might be time to try out the heads up putting method. This unconventional way of putting has helped tons of golfers – both pros and amateurs – regain their confidence on the greens.

What’s challenging about putting is that there is no “one way” to putt. If you look at the most accomplished putters you’ll notice they all have their own strategies.

Some use blade putters, others use mallet putters. Some use normal length putters, while others use long or armlock putters. Not to mention there are a myriad of ways to grip the club too.

What is Heads Up Putting? 

So, what is heads up putting? 

The name says it all – instead of looking at the ball while you putt, you’re looking at the hole (or target) instead. If you’re like most golfers you might cringe just thinking about this putting style. 

Plus, you’re probably thinking, “This goes against everything I’ve ever learned about putting.” Trust me, I get it. But I’ve experimented with this putting style myself and can say it works. 

Not to mention PGA Tour pros use it so it might be worth something to try out. Plus – we’ll take you through a study that proves that the heads up putting technique can transform your short game.

Key Takeaways

  • Heads up putting is a unique way to putt where you look at the target, not the golf ball.
  • This method seemingly goes against all advice of “keep your head down” which most instructors teach. 
  • This strategy works best for short putts, specifically inside 15-feet. Studies have shown that players make more breaking putts, improve proximity if they miss, and still make as good of contact as normal. 
  • Professional golfers like Jordan Speith and Tony Finau have adopted this method and used it at the highest levels of professional golf. 

Keep reading to learn more about this unique putting strategy to see if it’s right for your short game. 

Heads Up Putting Study 

Before you dismiss this putting strategy that goes against everything you know, check out this study done by the creator of The Stack System.

As noted in Golf Digest, “There was even a study published by Sasho J. MacKenzie and Neil R. MacInnis that evaluated visual focus strategies for breaking putts. They found that inside 14 feet, experienced golfers who normally look at the ball, or use a Near Target (NT) strategy, improved their putting performance by 5 percent simply by shifting to a Far Target (FT) strategy.”

The study also found that players who did miss the putt were closer to the hole. This of course leads to shorter putts and more tap-ins to avoid costly three putts. 

To my surprise the study also revealed that players didn’t “miss” or “whiff” any putts either. As noted in the study, “Visually focusing on the hole did not meaningfully (nor statistically) affect the quality of impact as assessed by the variability in face angle, stroke path, and impact spot at the precise moment the putter head contacted the ball.”

Heads Up Putting

Benefits of Heads Up Putting Technique

Now that you have a better understanding of this method and the science behind it, let’s get into some reasons why it’s worth a shot. 

Eliminate Mechanics

Let’s face it, putting is a simple motion compared to the full swing.Yet, so many golfers can hit a great tee shot, a great shot from the fairway but struggle on the greens.

Why?

Because many golfers let mechanics get in the way of a free slowing stroke. But this method can help you putt like a kid and not worry so much about the “how to” of putting. 

Make More Short Putts

Short putts (inside 8-feet) are easiest to “get back” during a round. While you won’t make everything from 6 to 8 feet, statistics show that inside 5-feet is where you need to improve. 

The pros make roughly 90% of putts from 4-feet and more than 80% from 5-feet. If you can start making more of these length putts you’ll save tons of strokes and gain a lot of momentum during the round. 

Paired with the right putting practice drills, you can become unstoppable on the greens. 

Free Up Your Stroke 

Another benefit is that it can simply free you up and get back to a more natural stroke.

Danny Guise qualified for the Wells Fargo Championship in 2023 using this unique method. It took social media by storm as videos surfaced of him putting with a long putter and keeping his head up. 

As Danny mentioned in the same Golf Digest article, “Golf is one of the only sports where you don’t look at your target when shooting. When I shifted from looking at the ball to looking at my target, I noticed that it freed up my stroke.”

When his eyes remained fixed ahead it helped free him up and I noticed something similar too. Remember you’re out to play golf… not focus on the mechanics every shot.

Putting Practice

Downsides of Heads Up Putting Technique

While there are a lot of advantages to testing this method out, it’s important to note the downsides as well.

Hard to Trust

The first thing to note is that this style is very different from how you most likely currently putt. If you’ve been playing the game for some time adopting a new style this drastically different will take some getting used to.

If you do test it out, make sure to practice a lot before taking to a competitive event. Under pressure it’s easy to revert to old habits and putting with such a different style can take a lot of time to become normal in competition.

Technique is a Premium

This strategy can help you free up your stroke but it does rely on proper technique. If you’re a newer golfer or a higher handicap player, it might not be the best style for you – yet.

Instead, work with a putting mirror and other training aids to develop a more consistent stroke. Once you feel like your technique is there (not to mention choosing the right putter) and if you’re still struggling, try out this method.

Not Great With Long Putts

If you watch the pros who use this method on TV you’ll notice they only use it for mid to short-range putts… not longer lag putts. After doing some testing myself I also think it’s much more beneficial from inside 15-feet and suggest keeping your head down on longer putts.

Since longer putts require a bigger and more powerful putting stroke, it isn’t nearly as easy to do as shorter ones. A lot of golfers won’t trust that they won’t miss the ball (or have a big mishit) on these longer putts.

When to Use

One of the biggest downsides to me is determining when to use this method and when not too. It works great for short range putts but not as effective for putts outside 20-feet in my opinion.

Which begs the questions… When should I use the heads? Only on putts inside 8-feet? 10-feet?

This is something you’ll need to test out in practice to see length of putts you feel comfortable with. Then trust yourself on the golf course from mid to long range distances so you don’t second guess which style to use.

Instinct Putting Book

This study mentioned above has changed the game and a lot of the work was actually based on a book called Instinct Putting. Here’s how the author described the game-changing book:

“A scientifically proven approach sure to cut strokes on the putting green by tapping the power of intuition.The Instinct Putting method relies on the brain’s built-in ability to perform incredible tasks through unconscious information processing, rather than through active thought.” 

It has tons of images to walk you through the science behind this different putting technique. The book can ease a lot of doubt and also provides tons of drills to help you learn how to tap into the power of your intuition. Plus, it’s relatively short and can probably finish it in a day.

Click here to buy it now.

How to Start Heads Up Putting

If you’re ready to try out this new putting routine, here’s how to get started. 

Test it Out in Practice 

First things first, do not try and take this approach (or any new putting technique) straight to the golf course. This includes a new grip, routine, or stance without first trying it in practice. Otherwise, you might bail on a system or putting change that might work in the long run if you don’t immediately get results. 

The easiest way to begin this putting method is to start by making practice strokes while looking at the hole. You can do this behind the golf ball where you’re perpendicular to the target or next to the golf ball.  

Remember, there is no “one way” to putt. Test out everything to see what gives you the most confidence – whether it’s heads up, prayer putting grip, or an armlock putter.

Start With Short Putts 

Once you get comfortable looking at the hole with practice strokes, try to keep your head up on short putts – roughly 3 to 6 feet. Try to focus on where you want the ball to go in the hole and think about the target only… not your mechanics. 

If you start to see success with this strategy on short putts, move back to mid-range 10-15 footers. This isn’t a range where even the best golfers make a ton of putts but focus on speed control for easy tap-ins if they don’t go in. 

Mid-range putts are where you might start to notice a decline because if you mishit the putt, it could mess up your distance control. But some golfers still react well to the target from this range with enough repetition in practice. 

Lag Putting

Advance to Long Putts (Optional)

If you like this putting style for short and mid-range putts, test out long range putts too. For a lot of golfers this might feel extremely awkward as you keep your head up on 30-50+ footers. Because a mishit here can mess up speed control even more and invite 3-putts into the picture much more easily. 

Some golfers who use the heads-up technique prefer to actually keep their eyes down on longer putts. Since a longer stroke is required, a normal head position can help out a ton. 

Another thing to test out on long range putts is where you focus your eyes. Some golfers putt best by focusing on the back of the ball where they want to make contact. While others benefit more from focusing on a dimple and staying laser focused. 

Test Out Breaking Putts

As you know most putts on the golf course aren’t straight and require you to play break in one direction. To adapt this technique to breaking putts try to hit some big sliders in either direction.

Instead of focusing on the hole, look at the apex to get the ball rolling on a good start line. You can also use a putting aid like the Putting Tutor to ensure a proper start line as well. 

As mentioned in the study, focusing on the target line (not the hole) led to the ball dropping more often and better misses. Try to identify your apex (putt line) when reading the green and focus on it during the stroke.

Unfortunately, most putting greens don’t allow you hit putts with break. But the Breaking Ball Putting Mat from Me & My Golf does thanks to their custom golf balls. These balls allow you to simulate break – despite a flat surface.

FAQs About Putting

Do you have more questions about mastering your performance on the greens? If so, keep reading through the most frequently asked questions and answers below.

Do any pros use heads up putting?

Yes, some professional golfers do adapt the unique heads up putting method. Arguably the best example of this is Jordan Speith who has some of the best putting statistics in the game. He rarely looks at the golf ball and instead looks at the hole on putts inside 10-feet.

Other players to adopt this putting technique include Tony Finau, Louis Oosthuizen, and more. 

Is it better to look at the hole when putting?

Some golfers can benefit greatly from keeping their head up during the putting stroke. A lot of golfers find that it gives them more freedom to simply look and shoot. If you’re struggling with the yips or missing a lot of short putts, this strategy can help by freeing up your stroke.

Studies have also shown that putting with your head up can lead to a huge increase in made putts inside 14 feet. And better misses if you don’t make the putt. It’s worth a shot to see if you’re the type of golfer who can benefit from this putting method. 

How to use the Plumb Bob in Golf

Does plumb bobbing work for putting?

The plumb bob method has become less popular over the years as a lot of golfers have replaced it with AimPoint Express. It uses both your hands and feet to help you better understand how the green will break. It’s helpful for some but too much information for others. 

Do any pros putt with an open stance?

Yes, pros putt with a closed, open, and square stance. One of the best examples of an open stance putter is Jack Nicklaus. His posture and stance were far from “textbook” but clearly they worked as he used it to win 18-major championships and tons of PGA Tour events. 

What’s the best putting grip?

Your grip has a big impact on the putter face at impact but there is no “one size fits all approach” when it comes to how you grip the putter. Some golfers prefer a traditional method, others prefer left-hand low, and others use a claw. Check out our putting grip encyclopedia to see which style can help you make more putts.

My Experience

A few years ago I was going through a putting slump and saw Jordan Spieth using this method while watching golf on TV. My putting – specifically short putts – was really struggling so I figured what did I have to lose. While watching golf I rolled some balls on my indoor putting green and noticed I felt a more free flowing stroke. 

A few days later I took this to the practice green and started to feel my confidence increase dramatically. But I noticed that I didn’t feel comfortable on longer putts – anything outside 15 feet. I mishit quite a few lag putts so I kept my head down on the longer ones.

While I never took the method to competitive events, I still to this day use it in practice a lot. Anytime I find myself getting bogged down and worrying about mechanics, rolling putts with my head up frees me up – especially on short putts. 

During my pre-shot putting routine when I take my practice swings I always focus on the target, not the imaginary ball. Then when I walk to the target I focus on where I want the ball dropping in the hole. This has also helped 10x my confidence on the greens.

Even if you don’t use this putting style on the golf course, I’m confident this process can help you in practice. Remember, putting is a simple motion – don’t let your mind get bogged down in the technical side of things too much. 

Final Thoughts on Heads Up Putting Technique

If you’re going through a putting slump, it’s worth a shot to test out this unique method. What’s great is that you don’t have to change putters, buy a new grip, or learn anything new. If things are going well with the flat stick, no need to try it out (yet).

But if you feel like you need to improve from short range and/or need better speed control it’s worth a shot. While it’s not the best strategy for lag putting it can lead to more dropped putts from short range. If it works for the pros it can work for you.

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